Tag Archives: Holiday

The One With The Lonely Planet Guide

Lonely Planet - New York City

My mind is whirling.

Apart from the tentative plans (made by my mom, not me), to visit Atlantic City and Philadephia while I am in the States, I find it totally impossible to select the must-visits in new York during the few days I get to spend there. Reading the guide is no good… everything sounds good, and if I go to one (say, Central Park) for the day, I will probably miss another (say, the Statue of Liberty).

What am I going to do? Argh!

I know… this sounds like a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless!

The One With The Ten Years Visa

Do you believe in dreams?

Ever since my mom moved to the States, and after watching endless reruns of FRIENDS, I had always wanted to go to the New York City. But the fear of the visa application process, of being rejected, of being blacklisted, had always put me off.

Until this year.

An opportunity came along at work to visit our US rep office, also located at the Big Apple. So I took a deep breath and plunge myself into the deep (but effective) bureaucracy of the United States General Consulate.

It wasn’t smooth flowing unlike the majority of people. After rounds of preparing the necessary documents for the application, I waited for some time at the embassy for the biometric printing and interview… only to be told that they needed more time to review my application. The yellow letter they gave me was ominous looking enough… it listed a multitude of (implied) reasons on why my visa might not be approved.

That, plus a warning that travel arrangement should not be confirmed at that time. By then it was too late; I had already bought my plane tickets.

So I prayed. And waited. For that faithful phone call. And that package delivery.

The whole process made me anxious beyond belief. So much so that I even dreamed of the entire process. In my dream, my visa was approved with a ten years validity. I awoke from that dream with sweat on my forehead and my heart racing.

Don’t be silly, I told myself. You will be lucky to be granted a visa for that ten-days visit, never mind a ten year period.

It came today. My passport. With the much-prized visa.

The One With The Ten Years Visa

Yes, you saw that right. It was a visa valid for the next ten years. For the next 120 months, I am free to go to the States anytime I want, be it for leisure or business.

I was elated beyond measure. New York City, my mom, my fantasy… here I come.

The One With The Lunar New Year

Chinese New Year Props @ Times Square, Hong Kong

It is time of the year when you avoid the throngs of shopping-deprived aunties in town, deftly sparing yourself from the insanity caused by festive tunes on incessant repeats, and wish it is still Christmas.

I was browsing through the archive of my blog – a stroll down memory lane if you will – to recall how I spent the previous Chinese New Years. Apart from the homage I paid to my sister last year, the last few years have been spent in Singapore.

Not that I hated going back to Malaysia, mind you. But since hardly any of my family members was at home, and the bus tickets were astronomically priced, it made more sense to return only when the madness subside… and when gastronomical meals were cooked and ready for my inspection, hehe.

Now that I am in Hong Kong, it is even more difficult for me to return home, be it now or later. I have to think hard what I could do here – new friends (the few of them) will be busy with their families, and many places I frequent would be closed. I guess it is inevitable for me to spend time at home and cook for myself, seeing that I am still a single swinging bachelor at this time of the year, every year.

But hey, I am not complaining! Sometimes it is great to have some me-time, and seasons like this is as good as any others.

Have a great lunar new year, everyone. May the Tiger year ahead be a roaring one for you!

The Adventure Begins 4 December

Prague Castle

Cesky Krumlov

Österreichische Galerie Belvedere Palace

Doesn’t this reminds you of this?

(Photo Credit: Jose Luis Ogea, Alisa Volkova & Occhiovivo)

Virgin Trip to Macau

When someone says Macau, what does that bring to your mind? Perhaps it was the glittering streets peppered with countless casinos. Some swear by its incredible fusion of (and inexpensive) Chinese and Portuguese food. Or maybe, just maybe, one’s memory will be of those seedy little shops with bright facade advertising massages at incredible rate, but often with hidden price for a “happy ending”.

For me, Macau equals to all these, and more.

Inside Turbojet Ferry from Sheung Wan to Macau

It was my virgin to Macau, a 45 minutes ride from Hong Kong by ferry. Incredibly, the terminal where we were to board the ferry was a mere 5-minutes walk from my house. It was a work-trip, a workshop for the Classified team, and I was invited as “guest”.

Views of Macau from Sofitel Hotel

The workshop took place from Saturday morning right to Sunday afternoon. The group of some 30 of us stayed at Sofitel Macau, an incredible hotel which was so luxurious I swear that I will never be able to afford one of such on my own. The bedroom, the conference room, the bathroom… everything was so well adorned I felt like a king for all of 1.5 days.

The Street of Macau at Night

On Saturday night, of course we spent the evening out trawling the confusing streets of Macau. After a wonderful dinner, some of us went out in search of a “decent” massage parlour. Without really realising it, we walked for more than an hour from the restaurant to the massage parlour. The walk was tiring, but I relished it because of the sights of Macau. The youngsters walking in opposite direction as us towards the harbour to catch the firework display (apparently, Macau does this every weekend in the month of September), the peddlers selling authentic homemade ice cream only found in Macau… it was a great orientation to Macanese’ life.

The Street of Macau at Night

And so on to massage. Finally we found the place tucked in a building full of… err, bars fronted by ladies dressed with a tad too little to leave much for imagination. I was tempted to snap a pic, but that might spur them on to coax my colleagues and I for “some happy time”. LOL. Anyway, we paid good money for sauna and a 2-hour massage, which were a very relaxing experience. Food is provided. We were so relaxed that I almost felt asleep in the resting lounge. Maybe we were just too tired from the day’s activities and all the walking.

Typical SIghts of Macau

The next day, after another long workshop in the morning and hugely satisfying lunch at the hotel, we were free to do whatever we want. Most of my colleagues have been to Macau so many times the novelty must have worn off. So I went off on my own armed with my Lonely Planet (what else?) to explore the streets of Macau.

Ruins of The Church of St Paul, Macau

My first stop, of course, was the Ruins of The Church of St Paul, one of Macau’s most famous landmarks. The Ruins of St. Paul’s refer to the façade of what was originally the Cathedral of St. Paul, a 17th century Portuguese cathedral in Macau dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle. In 2005, the Ruins of St. Paul were officially enlisted as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Centre of Macau. Built from 1582 to 1602 by the Jesuits, the cathedral was the largest Catholic church in Asia at the time, and the royalty of Europe vied with each other to bestow upon the cathedral the best gifts. With the decline in importance of Macau, which was overtaken as the main port for the Pearl River Delta by Hong Kong, the cathedral’s fortunes similarly ebbed, and it was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835. The Fortaleza do Monte overlooks the ruin.

Ruins of The Church of St Paul, Macau

The ruins now consist of the southern stone façade — intricately carved between 1620 and 1627 by Japanese Christians in exile from their homeland and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola — and the crypts of the Jesuits who established and maintained the Cathedral. The façade sits on a small hill, with 66 stone steps leading up to it. The carvings include Jesuit images with Oriental themes, such as a woman stepping on a seven-headed hydra, described by Chinese characters as ‘ Holy Mother tramples the heads of the dragon’. A few of the other carvings are the founders of the Jesuit Order, the conquest of Death by Jesus, and at the very top, a dove with wings outstretched.

Musuem of Sacred Art at Ruins of The Church of St Paul

Resisting calls for the dangerously leaning structure to be demolished, from 1990 to 1995 the ruins were excavated under the auspices of the Instituto Cultural de Macau to study its historic past. The crypt and the foundations were uncovered, revealing the architectural plan of the building. Numerous religious artifacts were also found together with the relics of the Japanese Christian martyrs and the monastic clergy, including the founder of the Jesuit college in Macau, Father Alessandro Valignano. The ruins were restored by the Macanese government into a museum, and the facade is now buttressed with concrete and steel in a way which preserves the aesthetic integrity of the facade. A steel stairway allows tourists to climb up to the top of the facade from the rear. It is customary to throw coins into the top window of the ruins from the stairs, for luck.

The Crypt @ Ruins of The Church of St Paul

The Chapel-Crypt was built on the same location where once stood the main-altar of the Church of St. Paul’s College. In the centre, on top of the granite rock, there is a bronze cross that marks a tomb, probably belonging to the founder of the College, Father Alexandre Valignano. In the caskets embedded in the North Wall lie the mortal remains of both devotees and laymen, who were laid to rest in this church. Finally, in the glass fronted reliquaries along the side walls, there are mortal remains of the Martyrs of Japan and Vietnam.

View of the Ruins of The Church of St Paul

From the ruins, I tried to find my ways to my next destination, but being the total map klutz that I was, of course I lost my way. In the process I got distracted by some very interesting sights of Macau, like this beautiful, pastel-coloured street right beside the ruin. It looked like something right out from an European postcard.

Cute Pink Scooter in Macau

And this oh-so-cute pink scooter. I would want one myself if not for the dangerous streets of Hong Kong!

Macau Beer from the Macau Soul

The afternoon was scorching hot and I was perspiring profusely, so you can imagine how relieved I was to have found a dainty looking cafe called Macau Soul along the many streets near the ruins. Did you know Macau has its own brew of beer? It tasted absolutely delicious, and it’s not only because of the weather. The beer was really good, and I wondered why it wasn’t marketed widely, like in Hong Kong at least. Macau Soul itself was run by a foreigner couple, who was so nice to me despite that I only bought a pint of beer. Definitely worth a visit if you are in town – check out their website.

Cannons @ Monte Forte

After some more walking, I finally managed to find the way to my next destination. Monte Forte was once a principal military facility and was one of the city’s strongest defence points. In the centre of the top platform, there was a 3-storey tower fitted with cannons on each floor. There were four rows of houses that served as military barracks close by. The Fortress was also equipped with wells and an arsenal that held sufficient ammunition and supplies to survive a siege lasting up to two years. The site also served as the residence of the first Portuguese governor, D. Francisco de Mascarenhas.

Monte Forte

Tucked in a corner with a winding staircase winding down was a tiny museum detailing the construction and preservation of Monte Fort. Unless you are really into this sort of history, the museum would otherwise serve as a pretty good refuge from the scorching sun. The aircond was at full blast and I was the only visitor.

Church of St Dominic

Leaving Monte Fort, I made my way to the main square of Macau (I can’t remember the name) to visit one of its more famous churches, the Church of St. Dominic.

Church of St Dominic

A fine example of eccelesiastical baroque architecture, this imposing church now contains the Treasury of Art (Treasouro de Arte Sacra, admission free), an Aladdin’s cave of ecclesiastical art and lirtugircal object in three floors.

Church of St Dominic

I hate it when tourists don’t respect the sanctuary of churches and keep using flash in their photography. There were plenty of such ignorant tourists flashing away in total disregard to the worshipers in the church.

Inside Turbojet Ferry from Sheung Wan to Macau

After the church, it was 5 plus in the afternoon, and I was totally beat. Although I have a 9.15 p.m. ferry ticket to go back to HK, I went off to the ferry terminal anyway in hope of catching an earlier ferry. Ended up I needed to queue for almost an hour, but the relief of reaching Hong Kon three hours earlier than planned was a relief after such a long weekend.

The Cobbled Street of Macau

So will I ever return to Macau again? I am not really a casino person. Sight seeing is more of my thing, but I don’t think Macau has that much to offer. Macau is to Hong Kong what Batam is like to Singapore; a quick, inexpensive getaway from the city, perhaps for the weekend. I could do that, but for now I should concentrate on planning for my three trips by year end :)

Click here for the full set of photos I took over my virgin weekend in Macau.

Dreaming of Santorini

I have just been there last year, but undeniably the island has a pull on me. Should I go again? This time perhaps hopping over to Mykonos too. And it’s just after summer, so things will still be glorious but less crowded.

Though, I do wish that I have someone to go with me.

(Photos by dbmahlum)

The Seoul of Korea

At Jongmyo, Gwanghwamun

A mere week after I am back from Seoul, I am done with all the blog posts! My trip was blessed with many nice photos, especially so since we arrived during the week cherry blossom (purely coincidental, something which cannot be planned for). Here are the posts!

Enroute to Seoul, 14th April
A little on pre-trip preparation, and our little get together at Changi Airport and KLIA with my two travel buddies, Shafik & Cheryl

Day 1, 15th April
Arrival at Incheon International Airport, checking into the frill-free Beewon Guesthouse at Gwanghwamum area. Our first palace experience at Jongmyo, which was shrouded with cold weather due to the incessant rain (though, truth to be told, we liked it), and our first Seoulite nightlife at the famous Itaewon clubbing district.

Day 2, 16th April
Second day dawned rather early for us, and we headed to Gyeongbokgung (Palace of Shining Happiness) which was a must-see spot in Seoul. Then we headed for a rather disappointing shopping excursion to Namdaemun Market, before scaling up (via cable car) to Namsan Summit to visit the N Seoul Tower and the attached teddy bear museum. At my insistence, we also visited Myeong-Dong Catholic Cathedral where I had a DaVinci moment. The night ended with some trawling along the streets of Hongik University District

Day 3, 17th April
First road trip out of Seoul to Haenggung and at the World Heritage Site Hwaseong (Suwon Fortress), both located within Suwon City. It was a long but very interesting trip out especially so for the food, namely beef rib soup! Concluded the night at Itaewon again right to the dawn.

Day 4, 18th April
A rather slow day for us, as we all woke up really late. Visit the magnificent Seoul Zoo at Seoul Grand Park, where we spent many happy hours making funny faces at animals and buying useless toys (that’s me). Ended the night, albeit mistakenly, at Seoul Plaza, before heading back to Beewon for an early night. We were totally beat!

Day 5, 19th April
The rest the night before was a blessing, as we made our way to visit the Seodaemun Prison, a historically important site for Korea during the Japanese occupation year. We also brought out the sporty side of us as we sillied ourselves to the max Seoul World Cup Stadium, impromptu picnic included. The night ended with a peaceful and relaxing Hangang River Ferry Cruise, easily the best part of my trip.

Enroute back to Singapore, 20th April
I made my way back to Singapore first, as Cheryl and Shafik continued on their Korean adventure to Busan for a few more days.

All in all, a very satisfying trip though, truth to be told, Seoul is not one of the cities that I will visit again unlike London, Phuket or Santorini. I think I could do another post on a list of things I learned from my Korea trip… but first thing first. Here’s the link to view the blog posts under “The Seoul of Korea” series, and here’s the link for my Flickr collection on all photos taken during this trip.

Gamsa hamiida!

The Seoul of Korea: Enroute Back to Singapore

My last morning in Seoul dawned bright and early. Despite my somewhat early slumber the night before, I was still a little groggy. Careful not to wake up the slumbering Cheryl and Shafik, whose train to Busan was not to depart till after 10 a.m., I packed my things for the final time. After hugs of goodbyes and wishes of bon voyage, I was out of the door. I knew then I will miss my two travel buddies, but I also take heart that I will see them again back in Singapore in less than a week.

Views of Gwanghwamun

The early morning walk in Gwanghwamun area towards Jongno-san Ga station was very refreshing. I was, once again, mesmerised by this cultural district where modernity and traditional lives fused together. I was glad that I have chosen this district as my lodging of choice. Surrounded by palaces and temples of ancient times, I felt like a royalty myself.

Towards Incheon International Airport

The train ride towards Incheon International Airport took much longer than expected. From where I was, I needed to ride to Ghimpo International Airport (despite the name, it only serves domestic flight), before changing to an express train towards Incheon. The entire trip took no less than 1.5 hours. I was kinda suffocated by the amount of black suit cramped into the train cars, since it was the peak hour of a working day. But, seriously, Korean men could afford to have a little more variety on their suits (afterall, it’s a privilege to be able to wear such stuff on a daily basis during winter) than various shades of black and grey.

Incheon International Airport

It was only now when I took in the sights that were Incheon Airport, which was a culmination on all things modern about Korea. The infrastructure and architectural designer were impressive, rivaling that of Changi and KLIA. The only thing I could think of lacking was the “warmth” – human traffic. The service staff attending to tourists like me were on hand and impeccable with their service – with a smile. From the guy at the train ticket counter who topped up my now-deficient T-money, to the driver who offered me a ride on his luggage buggy, to the officer who pointed me to the right terminal for Malaysian Airlines, all were rendered with the famous Korean hospitality.

Food Court Fare at Incheon International Airport

Had my final Korean meal at the airport too. The price was expectedly exorbitant for the bland quality of fare I have ordered, but oh well… what should I expect? I was not about to shell out more Wons for a upmarket meals at some of the Japanese and Western eateries I saw at the aiport.

Incheon International Airport

Soon, it was time for me to board my flight, which was to transit at KLIA (was a breeze, I started blogging at the Starbucks outlet to while away the 3-hours waiting time) before heading back to Changi. The flight was unceremonious, except that… I cried while reading my holiday book The Gift. Kinda embarassing, and thank goodness there was nobody sitting next to me.

I arrived earlier than expected at Singapore, about 20 minutes earlier. By the time I cleared the custom, shopped at DFS, collected my luggage and cabbed home, it was just slightly before 9 p.m. Grateful I was to be back on familiar ground and to be back into the normal grind of life, but I kept having the feeling that I left half my heart behind…

… in the form of two friends whom I got to know much better through the trip, both good and bad. Another step upwards in our friendships. I am sure of that.

Click here for the final set of photos I took from this Korea trip.

The Seoul of Korea: Day 5 – Seodaemun Prison, Seoul World Cup Stadium & Hangang River Ferry Cruise

Rest from the night before was a blessing to all of us. We were well rested and able to take on Seoul for the fifth day! This also marked my last full day in Seoul, and I intend to make the best out of it by setting out to see some of the more out-of-way attraction spots in this city.

Breakfast @ Dunkin Donuts

We had an early start for the day; I remembered because we found a Dunkin Donuts outlet in Insadong and had a good breakfast there! These four doughnuts, plus the drink, were not mine. They were Shafik’s, and Shafik’s alone. He devoured this under 15 minutes and ordered another drink. One has to wonder if his stomach is indeed bottomless? And, yes, I know Seoul and Dunkin Donuts do not exactly go together. But we were hungry, and I needed a sugar fix. So we didn’t really care.

Dodaemun Metro Station

Our destination was a mere three metro stations away from Jongno-san (3) Ga. Upon alighting from the train, I realised that we had the entire station to ourselves, and instantly we know that this got to be the most historically rich station off all. The walls were adorned with marble plaques with Korean writing on them. Cheryl was able to read some… and told me they were names. Hundreds of them. It dawned on me, then, they must be the names of Korean heroes from the place we were about to visit.

At Seodaemun Prison

The Seodaemun Prison was a stark reminder of the sufferings of Korean independence fighters who challenged Japanese colonial rule (1910-45). It contains an entrance gate, two watchtowers, a wooden execution house, interrogation cells and eight of the original 18 red-brick prison buildings. Built to house 500 prisoners, up to 3000 were packed inside during the height of the anti-Japanese protests in 1919.

At Seodaemun Prison

Altogether 40,000 freedom fighters passed through the entrance gate and at least 400 died or were killed inside, including Ryu Gwan-sun, an Ewha high-school student who was tortured to death in 1920. Overcrowding, lack of food, beatings and torture were daily facts of life, and the interrogation cells give a vivid and nightmarish demonstration of what went on there.

At Seodaemun Prison

The independence fighters were brave but too few to threaten the Japan’s brutal rule, which attempted cultural genocide – banning the Korean language and forcing Koreans to adopt Japanese names (12% refused).

At Seodaemun Prison - The Secret Tunnel

The prison, now serving as one of the most important historical landmark of South Korea, was tastefully designed to educate the visitors on the hardship these warriors had to go through during the Japanese rule. The secret tunnel where corpses were ferried out of the prison, the execution chamber, vivid replay of prisoners’ torture (nail prickling, torture box, electric shocks, just to name a few), the house of leper, the actual prison building, the cramped cell… it was a harrowing morning for all of us. Cheryl, Shafik and I left the prison compound in a sombre mood and a newly-gained respect to the steadfastness of Korean patriotic spirit.

Seoul World Cup Stadium

Now on to less-sombering stuff! When I saw descriptions on the World Cup Stadium in the Lonely Planet guidebook, I knew I had to pay a visit. No, I am no soccer fan (you’ll know why in a sec), but architecture of stadiums always fascinates me. The grandeur, the scale, the vastness… yes, I like it big. LOL.

Inside the Seoul World Cup Stadium

Costing US$151 million, the spectacular 64,000-seat World Cup Stadium was built to stage the opening ceremony and some of the matches of the 2002 World Cup soccer finals, which Korea cohosted with Japan. Under the stadium is CGV, lots of small shops, a giant hypermarket and household goods. Around the stadium are large parks that have been cleverly reclaimed from landfill sites and returned to natural states.

Inside the Seoul World Cup Stadium

For a mere W1,500 (that’s about S$2), I get to go inside the stadium, onto the pitch and into the locker rooms! Again we had the entire stadium almost entirely to ourselves. Rows and rows of seats, perfect green grass, sitting at field side… I felt almost like a soccer player myself. LOL. And of course we did a great many video, like how I tried to come up with a soccer strategy which was a total failure (see below), changing in the local room and was rudely interrupted by incoming visitors, a full length tour of the soccer players’ locker room, and of me showing off my non-existent soccer skills in the warm up room.

We also took a great many photos of here, many were beautiful because of the majestic stadium. There was also a soccer stadium attached, depicting the colourful history of soccer mania in Korea (look at the soccer players!) and visiting football teams. It was also here where I discovered that my digicam has a wide landscape function. I know, I am such a total klutz! To thin that I have been using the camera for almost two years now.

Picnic @ Seoul World Cup Stadium

We had plenty of time left before our plan for the evening, so we decided, impulsively, to have a picnic right here! The weather was lovely, we saw some green parks around the stadium, and there was a hypermart in the mall where we can get some food.

And so we did. Granted, we could have chosen a better spot than a non-grassy plain next to the helipad (yes, there was one right outside the stadium). We had a great time trying NOT to get sand into our food, as well as to play with them. Like how fling a peanut is really a lost art form, and why certain things are not safe for work (NSFW).

Our next plan was to take on the Hangang River Ferry Cruise. However, time flew by faster than we expect, and by the time we were ready to leave the stadium, it was already past 6 p.m., and the ferry was to depart at 7.30 p.m.! So it was a mad, mad rush for all of us from the stadium to Yeouido pier. Like, Amazing Race style (see above).

Hangang River Ferry Cruise

We made it to the ferry in the nick of time, but not before all of us were breathless from the run (yes, we ran from the metro station to the ferry), all sweaty and bothered. Okay, that sounded sexy, but actually it wasn’t. Less than five minutes after we came onboard, the ferry started to sail away from the pier. Phew!

Hangang River Ferry Cruise

The river ferry cruise took us back and forth across different sections of Seoul, including Yeuido, Yanghwa, Ttsukseom and Jamsil. There was a live performance onboard (attracted mainly middle age aunties), but we were more interested staying at the deck of the ship to take in the sight. Night has fallen and everything was dark, so it was difficult to make out what is what. But we had a better time relaxing facing the night wind (chilling as it was), just talking and be with each other without a mad rush to another point. It was calming and relaxing… and as strange as this may sound, I found this to be the highlight of my trip.

Larvae - Korean Delicacy

Upon alighting from the Hangang River Ferry Cruise, I decided once and for all to try the Korean roadside delicacy which I have seen everywhere I go – a big pot of steaming hot larvae. The smell was kinda nauseating, but not bad enough for the adventurous side of me not to take a little dip into the (literally) unknown.

It wasn’t that bad, actually. Tasted like chicken. Though I finish only 1/3 of the cup. LOL. This is a video of me taking my first bite, and here’s the second part. I even managed to convince Cheryl to try out (her being a Korean princess and all), but the single piece of larva she tasted proven to be too much for her.

Last Dinner @ Insadong

Soon we were back in Insadong for my last dinner. We trawled the streets of Insadong at night, which was totally different from the day as the sleazy part of this culture-rich district came out to play. We found a satisfying cafe at which I bought everyone dinner. It was a good one – Korean food for me, lots of meat for Shafik, and non-veg for Cheryl.

A befitting end to an adventurous day, and to my last day in Seoul. Click here for the full set of photos for today.

The Seoul of Korea: Day 4 – Seoul Zoo @ Seoul Grand Park & Seoul Plaza

After a thoroughly rowdy evening the night before, understandably we slept in late, drillers notwithstanding. By the time we woke up and got ready for the day ahead, our collective heads were still pounding and it was wayyyy past lunch time even. So after a quick lunch (or bulgogi beef, which was satisfactory) near Beewon, we headed to a very unlikely tourist destination.

At Seoul Zoo

THE ZOO!!! Of all things we decided to do, we decided to see animals on two, four or more legs. Actually it was stemmed from none other than Shafik. Everytime I asked him where he felt like going (since I am the type who don’t plan my holiday itinerary beforehand), he will say “I want to see animals”. So the Seoul Zoo, it was!

Seoul Grand Park, Gwacheon

The Seoul Zoo is located at Seoul Grand Park, a park complex to the south of Seoul, in the city of Gwacheon. Alighting at the Grand Park metro station, the walk towards the entrance was like walking in Hong Kong Disneyland. The main path was packed with hawkers selling similar food stuff and tourist trinkets. It’s just that they are not touty in any way, which was a blessing after my experience in Istanbul. From the big glass building, we have three options to get up the hill towards the entrance of the zoo – a tram, a skylift, or a 15-mins walk.

Skylift at Seoul Grand Park, Gwacheon

And we took the skylift. It was perfect madness. Me, the guy with a severe phobia of height, was going to sit on a chair with no foot rest and get dangled metres above water and ground. I remember nothing much of the ride up, which took an unbelievably long time, as I had my eyes closed most of the time. To go over the hills was not that bad, but it was over open water (there was a large lake) that scared the beejesus out of me!

At Seoul Zoo

Soon we was in the zoo! I have to say, for a mere W3,000 (that’s less than 4 bucks), you get to experience a huge and beautiful zoo in all its glory. The excellent and extensive zoo (Seoul’s best) is set among forested hillsides and families picnic along the shady banks of a stream that runs through the park. You can hike along a number of marked trails that stretch 2km to 6km. The zoo is home to a long list of exotic creatures, including the African ones.

The best way to enjoy the zoo was to take a second skylift up to the topmost of the zoo, and then walk our way down slowly towards the exit, enjoying the animals along the way. We took a great many photos throughout the trip. Here are some of the best ones:

At Seoul Zoo

Polar Bears at Seoul Zoo

At Seoul Zoo

At Seoul Zoo

Giraffes At Seoul Zoo

My stay at the zoo also showed me something about Korean parents. There were a million children at the zoo, considering that it was a Saturday and all. But instead of hordes of screaming and crying children generally becoming a nuisance to everyone else… the Korean kids were an obedient bunch. No, they are still mischievous and curious about everything. The parents, instead of “tying a verbal leash” on their offspring to control their behavior by scolding and instructing and commanding, they… talked. They talked to their children, played with them, laughed, had fun.

Of course, Cheryl was the one who pointed this out to me. From that point onwards I start to realise that this was indeed true. The Korean parents are really different from the typical Asian parents I saw before. Is it little wonder why the Koreans are such a progressive society? The younger generation need not to be policed, and the adults created an environment of encouragement, supportive and stimulating.

At Seoul Zoo

And with that, I brought out the child in me and bought a blue dolphin helium balloon. LOL. It floated alongside me as I walked around the zoo. Sometimes my blue dolphin will see its siblings (fellow blue dolphins) and relatives (pink dolphins)… and I will grin at the startled owners, the kids. Hahaha. It was really fun, at least for me, though Cheryl and Shafik though I was out of my mind.

At Seoul Train Station

We left the zoo in the late afternoon, and by the time we hit back to the city, it was well past 7 p.m. Headed to the Seoul train station so that Cheryl and Shafik get buy their express train tickets to Busan. The plan was that they will leave Seoul for Busan the same morning I return to Singapore. I stayed in Seoul for about 6 days, and they were to extend their stay for another 5 days.

At Seoul Plaza

Right after that we headed to Seoul Plaza, planning to do some shopping. Seoul Plaza is a central plaza located in front of Seoul City Hall at Taepyeongno, Jung-gu with the purpose to provide the public an open space. I must have mistaken, for Seoul Plaza is not a shopping place. More like a venue for concerts and stuff. There was one in progress, apparently for the disabled people in Seoul.

We went back to Beewon for the night at the early hour of 9 p.m.! Which was a good thing, actually. We rested, talked and generally let our tired body recover from the past few hectic days.

Click here to see photos taken during my fourth day in Seoul, mostly of animals in the zoo. We don’t look very photogenic that day!